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December 27, 2004

12/27/04 - Colombia's Appalling Vista

Monthly Table of Contents 12/04

CP 12/27/04 Colombia's Appalling Vista
IO 12/27/04 Search Continues For Up To 500 Irish In Asia
BB 12/27/04 Police Return To Hostage's Home
AP 12/27/04 Review: Coward Musical Opens @ Irish Theatre


Colombia's Appalling Vista

Justice With Eyes Wide Open

By Toni Solo

"We headed to the area where we live and saw some bodies lying
about the streets. I entered my neighbor's house and found him
lying on the ground, nothing left of him but some bones."

Abd al-Rahman Salim, Fallujah resident

"The role of a free press is to be the people's eyes and ears,
providing not just information but access, insight and, most
importantly, context."

Jon Stewart, from "America" (The Book)

The circumstances around the long-running case against Niall
Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin MacAuley are in many ways more
significant than the case itself. The three were arrested in 2001
during the period of peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government. Accused of
training FARC fighters in the use of explosives, the men insisted
they were visiting to learn about the Colombian peace process under
way at the time. In April this year, after nearly three years
awaiting trial, the men were found innocent and released pending an
appeal by the Colombian Attorney-General.

This month the appeal court reversed the original verdict and
sentenced the men to 17 years imprisonment and fines amounting to
over half a million dollars. The appeal court's surprise verdict
rested on baseless speculation as to the purpose of the three men's
visit to Colombia and acceptance of thoroughly discredited forensic
evidence and witness testimony. Whether the three will serve their
sentence in Colombia remains unclear since the Colombian
authorities have lost track of them.

That may be a fortunate outcome for the three since it is
impossible for left-wing activists to get justice in law systems
run by allies of the US. The case of the three Irishmen is similar
to those of Pacho Cortes in Bolivia, Lori Berenson in Peru and
Simon Trinidad, also in Colombia. US law itself now seems to
include many provisions - detention without trial, special
tribunals, restrictions on legal support - already routine in anti-
terrorist legislation in Latin America. Maybe this ugly inter-
American symbiosis is seen most clearly in the lack of condemnation
by most Latin American governments of US practice at the Guantanamo
torture camp.

Lori Berenson

That may be because the US has itself in practice always supported
crimes and injustice perpetrated by its Latin American allies. In
Peru, US citizen Lori Berenson has now served more than nine years
of a twenty year sentence for allegedly collaborating with the
rebels in Peru. She was tried and sentenced under the illegal anti-
terrorist legislation of former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori.

Her sentence was expected to be declared unlawful by the Inter-
American Court of Human Rights on appeal after the Inter-American
Commission had recommended that she be released given the
illegality of trials that condemned her. Instead, earlier this
month, the Inter-American Human Rights Court upheld the trial
verdicts. Berenson remains unjustly imprisoned. Maybe she was lucky
to even get a trial. Members of the Tupac Amaru movement she is
alleged to have met with are only now coming to trial after over
twelve years in military prison.

Pacho Cortes

In Bolivia this month, Francisco Cortes, a Colombian rural workers
activist, managed to reduce the amount of the bond payable that
might allow him conditional liberty in a habeas corpus hearing on
his detention in a maximum security prison. Cortes was detained in
April 2003 on terrorism charges alleging his involvement with armed
groups in Bolivia. He faces 30 years imprisonment if convicted.

For now the Bolivian authorities are gathering evidence and
witnesses willy-nilly before submitting Cortes to the same kind of
politicised legal process as those that reversed the exoneration of
Connolly, MacAuley and Monaghan and upheld the conviction of
Berenson. It is the nature of anti-terror legislation to lead to
arrests first and worries about evidence later. In countries that
implement such legislation - ironically, Ireland is one such
country - the word of a single police officer or informer can be
sufficient to put people in prison for ten years or more.

Denning's "appalling vista" Law

In 1980, during an appeal by 6 Irishmen in the UK against their
convictions for a devastating bomb attack in Birmingham, leading
British judge Lord Denning stated "If the six men win, it will mean
that the police were guilty of perjury, that they were guilty of
violence and threats, that the confessions were involuntary and
were improperly admitted in evidence and that the convictions were
erroneous. That would mean the Home Secretary would either have to
recommend they be pardoned or would have to remit the case to the
Court of Appeal. This is such an appalling vista that every
sensible person in the land would say: 'It cannot be right that
these actions should go any further'."

Subsequently, the six men did in fact win their appeal and were
indeed released, paradoxically confirming what Denning had said.
Ever since then, few have had much confidence in the justice system
in the UK in cases of terrorism. Recently, the British Law Lords
ruled that current British anti-terror legislation does not conform
to Europèan Human Rights standards which are now part of British
law. That recent judgement confirms that over twenty years on from
the trial of the Birmingham six, people accused of terrorism in the
UK still cannot expect justice.

Corrupt secret states within a State

The European experience, from Italy and Spain to Ireland and the UK
is intensified in countries like Peru, Colombia and Bolivia under
the nefarious influence of the US government's contagious disregard
for basic legal norms. Anyone who questions the status quo may find
themselves fitted up on terrorism charges, especially if it suits
wider political purposes. The denial of justice in diverse cases
like those of Lori Berenson, Pacho Cortes and Simon Trinidad
indicate very clearly that political interference has rendered
substantive due process in such cases impossible.

In every country where ill-advised anti-terrorist laws have been
passed, the end result has always been a weakening of the very
freedoms the new laws are meant to protect. Often that weakening is
accompanied by wild illegality and corruption. During the Irish
conflict, at some secret level as a public recent inquiry
indicated, the British government was complicit in death squads
responsible for murders like those of human rights defenders
Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane. British security agents and
Unionist politicians alike were intimate with murderous drugs-
dealing Protestant paramilitaries like Johnny Adair.

So it should come as no surprise that Tony Blair and his British
government colleagues should be among President Alvaro Uribe's
strongest supporters. Since his days as governor of the Antioquia
department, Uribe has long been implicated in the murderous
narcotics activities of his paramilitary allies in Colombia.
Similarly, it is only natural that US governments, with their long
record of exploiting the covert action possibilities of narcotics
in south-east Asia, Afghanistan and Central America, should help
corrupt the rule of law in Colombia and elsewhere.

Media Collusion

This is self-evidently so in the case of Connolly, Monaghan and
MacAuley. It can surely be no accident that the verdict overturning
their exoneration came within weeks of a visit to Colombia by
George Bush. From the very day of their arrest the case of the
three was a political totem whose changing fortunes signalled
either embarrassment or schadenfreude respectively for the various
actors in the Irish peace process. The men's exoneration in April
was a serious embarrassment for the British government, especially
Prime Minister Tony Blair, and for his Unionist allies.

A vivid indication of the manipulation of the case by the UK and
Irish security services came with an article in the London Observer
on December 19th. The article accuses another Irishman, Paul
Damery, of helping the three escape from Colombia via Venezuela.
Damery, the article states, without any evidence, is "on the run"
for murdering an Irish policeman in 1996. So on the basis of total
speculation, the Observer article linked Connolly, Monaghan and
MacAuley to an alleged IRA member, supposedly implicated in the
murder of an Irish policeman. The beauty of this smear from the
Observer's point of view is that the paper is unlikely ever to face
a libel claim.

The Making of Non-People

It's true there is a connection between Paul Damery and Niall
Connolly. They are both men with long and honourable records of
grass-roots community work in Central America. They knew each other
in Honduras in the late 1980s where they worked with Salvadoran
refugees on community development training schemes funded by
leading aid agencies like OXFAM and Catholic Relief Services.
Subsequently they worked with funding from the Irish government in
El Salvador in the early 1990s, helping refugees rebuild their
lives and communities in the east of the country. Connolly is a
carpenter and Damery is an electrician.

Damery later worked for nearly six years with APSO, the Irish
government technical cooperation program, in Managua where he lived
with Karla, his Nicaraguan wife, and their two young sons. After
Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998, Damery worked
selflessly with many other foreign aid workers to deliver
humanitarian aid to stricken communities across northern Nicaragua.
He visited Ireland at least once before he stopped working for APSO
when his contract ran out in 1999. If the alleged case against him
had any merit, why was he not arrested? Back with his family in
Managua, Damery started a popular Irish bar which is still going

All of this is information any self-respecting journalist on a
well-resourced outlet like the Observer could find out with a few
phone calls. It is true fantastic tales of shadowy intrigue make
better copy than drab everyday facts. But one might expect a major
news outlet like the Observer to do more than serve as a receptacle
for imperial security service leaks.

This kind of reporting colludes with the most pernicious aspects of
anti-terror legislation. Individuals are made non-people. They
cannot find employment. They lose friends, Their families are
stigmatised. Their good name is trashed. All this is done in the
name of "freedom" or "democracy".

The True Appalling Vista

On the wider issue of the impact of anti-terror legislation, what
is not reported is as shameful as what is. The record shows
repeatedly that both courts and major media are prepared to trim
their judgement to suit prevailing political whims. The way anti-
terror legislation is managed in the courts and covered by the
media is a ready measure of the hypocrisy of so many politicians
and journalists about the liberties they say they are upholding.

That is so in high profile cases like those of the torture victims
in Guantanamo Bay, or of Berenson and Cortes, or of Simon Trinidad
and the three Irishmen in Colombia. It is incomparably more so in
the many thousands of anonymous cases that never make the news at
all. In countries that throw out the rule of law wholesale in that
way (currently the worst example in Latin America is Haiti under
the UN) state violence and illegality reveal the status quo as it
really is, founded on cynical mendacity and sadistic brutality.

Toni Solo is an activist based in Central America. Contact via


Search Continues For Up To 500 Irish In Asia

27/12/2004 - 21:23:05

Up to 500 Irish people may have been caught up in the tsunami
horror that wiped out thousands of communities in South East Asia,
it emerged tonight.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin said government
representatives in Thailand and Sri Lanka were contacting every
Irish citizen living in or visiting the countries devastated by the

Dermot Ahern, Ireland's Foreign Minister, said officials were
liaising with other embassies in the Indian Ocean region to find
out if any Irish nationals were missing.

"There are approximately five to 10 people who are receiving
medical care but it's a bit difficult to estimate what the
situation is because most of these countries don't require a visa,"
he said.

"From the calls we are getting – we got 1,000 calls to lines over
the last 24 hours – we estimate there is about 500 people in the
affected areas altogether."

There have been no reports of any Irish fatalities so far. A
dedicated helpline manned by staff from the Department of Foreign
Affairs has been set up on (01) 4082308.

It could be several days before officials know the exact number of
Irish people affected due to poor telecommunications in many of the

People planning to travel to other tourist resorts in the region
have been advised to check with travel operators before setting

The tsunami was caused by the worst earthquake to strike the Indian
Ocean for decades, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale. It left at
least 23,000 dead and countless others injured.


Police Return To Hostage's Home

It is understood two employees of the bank were held captive

Detectives have returned to the home of one of the Northern Bank
robbery hostages.

The two families who were held hostage as part of the £22m robbery
have had to spend Christmas away from their homes.

Police are continuing to hold both houses as crime scenes.

One is in west Belfast and the other is near Downpatrick in County

The robbers stole millions from the vaults of the bank in Donegall
Square West on 20 December as the families of the two bank
officials were held hostage.

The bank officials are Kevin McMullan from Downpatrick and Chris
Warde from Colinmill in Poleglass.

On Monday, detectives carried out a fresh search of the Warde
family home in the Poleglass area of Belfast.

On Christmas Eve, a search team took a number of items away for
forensic examination.

Meanwhile, police are still hunting for a handgun and ammunition
stolen from a police Land Rover on Christmas Eve.

The weaponry was taken from the vehicle in Cavendish Street, just
off the Falls Road, during one of several raids in the area.

The bank raid is thought to have been one of the UK's biggest cash

Bank raids: the human factor

Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams has complained to the government about
raids by police investigating the robbery.

Five officers were hurt in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, as residents
clashed with police when they raided the homes of a prominent

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has said the possible
involvement of paramilitaries is a "key line of inquiry".

But the IRA has denied involvement in the robbery.

Meanwhile, Northern Bank bosses may withdraw all the bank's notes.

A bank spokesman said the recall plan was "under very, very serious
consideration" but stressed that no decision has been taken.

The unusual move would be an attempt to take out of circulation all
of the stolen notes, and render them worthless.

It would involve replacing about £30m of old banknotes.


Review: Coward Musical Opens In New York

'After the Ball' gets stage run at Irish Repertory


Associated Press

NEW YORK - Its pedigree includes both Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde,
so right away, there should be considerable interest in After the
Ball, a 50-year-old musical only now receiving its New York
premiere, courtesy of the adventurous Irish Repertory Theatre.

The show, with book, music and lyrics by Coward, is based on
Wilde's venerable melodrama, Lady Windermere's Fan. It had a six-
month run in London a half-century ago before disappearing into the
land of forgotten musicals.

The Irish Rep production is tiny and not particularly well-acted or
sung, so it is hard to judge Coward's score or book, which has been
edited and condensed by Barry Day. He has turned one of the
characters, the busybody Duchess of Berwick, into a narrator to
help smooth over some of the musical's more convoluted plot points.
But the duchess is such an annoying creature, particularly in
Kathleen Widdoes' overripe impersonation, that she detracts from
the evening's dramatic flow.

After the Ball sticks close to the Wilde play. A scarlet woman —
you know because she is dressed in red — saves the reputation of
her daughter at the expense of her own. The catch here is that the
daughter, the Lady Windermere of the play's title, doesn't know
that this worldly wise woman is her mother.

Wilde's play, written in 1892, is a little musty, but it is awash
with many of his best one-liners, most of them delivered by that
aging roué, the dastardly Lord Darlington, played by David Staller.

Coward's music is resolutely old-fashioned and operettalike for the
more romantic numbers, and jaunty, with an almost music-hall air,
for some of the choruses — most robustly those delivered by the men
in the cast.

His lyrics are literate and often witty, particularly in Why Is It
the Woman Who Pays? — one of those laments about the unfair
advantage given to the male sex.

As Mrs. Erlynne, the self-sacrificing mother, Mary Illes, comes off
best. She is striking — particularly in that stylish red dress —
and she has a lovely voice.

For musical-theater buffs, After the Ball certainly demands to be
seen, even in this truncated version. They may not get another
chance. What's needed, though, is a first-rate recording of the
score to properly assess the music and lyrics Coward first put on
stage five decades ago.

Monthly Table of Contents 12/04
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